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BREAKTIME: Sue Torguson -- taking pride in people

By Amy Agronis on June 6, 2003 in University

It may be hard to believe today, but when Sue Torguson came to UC Davis 36 years ago she was so shy she had a hard time looking people in the eye.

As a leader and mentor across campus, she has since managed several departments in multiple colleges, led the administrative management group, stood confidently in front of fellow staff to teach workshops and has, with the power of eye contact and other interpersonal skills, lent comfort and guidance to employees as they mediate their disputes.

The "turning point," says Torguson -- now assistant dean of academic and staff personnel in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences -- may have been an assertiveness training class she took during the '70s through the Women's Resources and Research Center. She began to embrace interaction.

Ultimately, Torguson became one of the campus's first peer mediators -- a volunteer program pioneered by UC Davis Mediation Services in the mid-1990s. She is among about 40 active peer mediators on campus.

Torguson is known for being a diplomatic, but clear-cut facilitator and a creative problem-solver as she helps others confront and resolve issues that might otherwise end up in a court of law.

"She's an insightful, effective mediator," says Larry Hoover, director of mediation services. "She's a very innovative woman."

Strong communications skills, Torguson said, "are beneficial in any work group," whether the situation is a mediation or the day-to-day management of a department.

During Torguson's last two years as assistant dean, she has helped recruit academic and staff personnel in the college and has dealt with a variety of issues faced by staff and faculty members. Torguson believes she has been a good fit in her current position because of her wide experience on campus.

Torguson started her career at UC Davis in 1967 with no experience working in a university setting, but an ardent willingness to learn. She started in agronomy and range science and worked at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department before arriving in her present position.

"I came here 36 years ago for a job. I stayed because of the satisfaction of helping students and staff develop their skills," she said.

Her specialty is developing staff both in the department and in the classroom. "My career has been most focused on staff development and morale building," she said.

In her free time, Torguson enjoys hiking, kayaking, birding, golfing, movies and books. Like many in her family she is also an amateur watercolorist. "I have a lot of interests, but I'm not very good at any of them," she said, laughing.

Torguson plans to retire in July. But it's not really retirement, she says, as much as "a chance for new experiences."

She looks forward to spending more time with her family and friends, including her husband, Glen; daughter, Shelby, in Oregon; and son, Dylan, in Arizona. She also looks forward to seeing more of the world.

"I've already done a little exploring, and I like it," she said.

What are the best and most challenging parts of your job?

Interaction with the staff and managers is the best part -- listening to their ideas and concerns and trying to make a difference. One of the most challenging parts is assuring resources, funding and time are adequate in these financially difficult times.

What's something it would surprise co-workers to learn about you?

That's tough, I'm pretty much an open book. I scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef last year when we were on a birding trip in Australia. It's something I'd like to do again and one of those things I'd like to get better at.

What would you like to focus on in retirement?

My husband and I have discussed starting a nature tour business. In Australia we were impressed by the many eco-tours we saw and how people there seemed so proud of their native species. We'd like to do something like that in California.

What is appealing to you about traveling?

When my bags are packed and I'm on the road or in the air, I'm thrilled. Few things excite me more than discovering new people and places. I love it.

What is your philosophy?

"Make their day." It's a concept from a workshop I lead. Allowing people to speak and be listened to in a positive environment. It seems so simple, but it works. I try to live it every day.

Read any good books lately?

I love to read. Two recent books I've enjoyed are Resistance and Sea Glass by Anita Shreve. I'm currently reading A Day Late and A Dollar Short by Terry McMillan and a good nutrition book called The New Glucose Revolution.

What are your favorite movies?

I don't think I could pick just one. Some favorites are The Joy Luck Club, It's a Wonderful Life, Braveheart, and more recently Bend it Like Beckham and The Italian Job. I love it when everything comes together to make a really great movie.

What's your most treasured possession?

I have incredibly supportive family and friends. They mean much more to me than possessions. I hope they know that.

What's your guilty pleasure?

I'm a Gemini and thrive on change. A guilty pleasure is watching "Trading Spaces," a home decorating show on cable. Who knows, with a little more free time, I may redecorate the whole house. •

Media contact(s)

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,